Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Second- and third-generation stars, and films: Student of the Year, Bol Bachchan, Teri Meri Kahaani

Last week we caught up with three movies released in the second half of 2012 that feature second- and third-generation Bollywood actors: Student of the Year, Bol Bachchan, and Teri Meri Kahaani. Unfortunately, it wasn't only the stars that were second- and third-generation.

Student of the Year feels like a pile of old scripts in Karan Johar's office got accidentally shredded and then randomly reassembled. It combines the "son seeking domineering father's approval" plot of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (Sometimes joy, sometimes sorrow, 2001) with the "two boys in love with the same girl" plot and flashback structure of Kal Ho Naa Ho (Tomorrow may never come, 2003) and the swishy gay stereotypes of Dostana (Friendship, 2008). But most of all, SOTY feels like the college scenes from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (Something is happening, 1998) stretched into a feature-length movie (and that's not intended as a recommendation).

Shanaya (Alia Bhatt, daughter of director/producer Mahesh Bhatt and actress/director Soni Razdan) is the queen of St. Teresa's College; the role seems modelled in equal parts on Kareena Kapoor's Pooja (from K3G) and Alicia Silverstone's Cher (from Clueless (1995)). Despite her queen-bee status she's taken for granted by her boyfriend Rohan (Varun Dhawan, son of director David Dhawan), who wants to be a rock star but at the same time craves the approval of his father Ashok, a corrupt business tycoon. New man on campus Abhimanyu (Sidharth Malhotra, not a star kid) decides to help out Shanaya by flirting with her to make Rohan jealous, but soon realizes that he's really falling in love with her himself—the subtext of "Radha":

(Music: Vishal-Shekar; lyrics: Anvita Dutt Guptan; playback singers: Shreya Ghoshal, Udit Narayan, and Vishal Dadlani)

We didn't recognize her, but Rohan's dance partner Tanya is Sana Saeed, who played Rahul's daughter Anjali in KKHH.

Meanwhile, Rohan resents the way the self-made Abhi has ingratiated himself with Rohan's father. The tensions among the three come to a head during the annual Student of the Year competition, when something happens to cause a final break between Rohan and Abhi.

That "something" is referred to by the other characters throughout the film in the hushed tones usually reserved for mass catastrophes. What happened isn't revealed until the film's final scenes, but my partner and I had guessed it by the interval, making the second half pretty suspenseless. And despite the attempts by director Johar and screenwriter Rensil D'Silva to give the wealthy Shanaya and Rohan troubled home lives (see, even rich kids have problems!), the sheer level of privilege on display made it hard to feel like anything truly significant was at stake for these characters. Family money will clearly enable them to come out ahead in "the competition of life," as one of the film's taglines has it.

On the plus side, Alia Bhatt has striking, unconventional looks, and Sidharth Malhotra is tall, hunky and has an assured screen presence. On the negative side, Rishi Kapoor's Dean Vashist is a compendium of offensive gay stereotypes, such as fawning over the straight sports coach (Ronit Roy) and acting with undisguised hostility towards his wife (Prachi Shah).

The four friends/sidekicks of Shanaya, Rohan and Abhi, who include the unhappy Sudo (Kayoze Irani, son of actor Boman Irani), are woefully underdeveloped even though they narrate the film. In particular, I thought the subplot involving Shruti (Mansi Rachh), Shanaya's best friend, had a lot of unexplored potential. Shruti clearly has a major girl-crush on Shanaya, and it's not clear whether those intense feelings are developing into romantic ones. But that subplot and its possible complications are dropped, alas, and the film seems overeager to heterosexualize the present-day Shruti. Giving her story more screen time would have made SOTY a different and more interesting film.

Bol Bachchan (Say "Bachchan") is also a mashup, this time of Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Gol Maal (Confusion, 1979) and Rohit Shetty's slapstick Golmaal series. After breaking into a locked Hindu temple to rescue a child, Abbas Ali (Abhishek Bachchan, son of actors Amitabh Bachchan and Jaya Bhaduri Bachchan) is asked for his name by the village strongman, Prithviraj (Ajay Devgn, son of director Veeru Devgan). Before he can answer, a friend (played by Krishna Abhishek, nephew of actor Govinda) blurts out "Abhishek Bachchan!" That Abhishek Bachchan's character is called Abhishek Bachchan is one of the movie's recurring gags; others include Prithviraj speaking in mangled English, and the moustached Abhishek pretending to have a clean-shaven twin named, of course, Abbas Ali.

This alleged comedy does have its (few) moments of brainless fun, and it's clear that Abhishek (the actor) is quite comfortable in comic roles. But for me the high point of the movie was the opening credit sequence, featuring Amitabh Bachchan schooling both younger actors in screen charisma, grace, comic timing, and elocution; it goes swiftly downhill from there:

(Music: Himesh Reshamiya; lyrics: Farhad-Sajid; playback singers: Amitabh Bachchan, Abhishek Bachchan, Ajay Devgan, Himesh Reshamiya, Mamta Sharma and Vineet Singh)

Teri Meri Kahaani (Our Story) features three love stories set in periods fifty years apart: 1960, 2010, and 1910. In 1960, Govind (Shahid Kapoor, son of actor Pankaj Kapur and actress/dancer Neelima Azeem) is an aspiring music director in Bombay who meets starlet Ruksar (Priyanka Chopra, not a star kid); love and misunderstandings ensue. The costume, hair, and musical styles seem modelled on movies from significantly later in the decade, such as Teesri Manzil (The Third Floor, 1967); nonetheless, it's fun to watch Shahid channel his inner Shammi in "Jabse Mere Dil Ko Uff":

(Music: Sajid-Wajid; lyrics: Prasoon Joshi; playback singers: Sonu Nigam and Sunidhi Chauhan)

The 2010 section tries to show a modern romance conducted via Facebook and Twitter, but director Kunal Kohli's onscreen use of texting acronyms feels self-conscious and instantly dated. Krishna (Shahid) is a college student who has just broken up with his girlfriend Meera (Neha Sharma) when he meets—who else?—Radha (Priyanka). Meera takes revenge by posting embarrassing photos of Krish online, and he retaliates in kind. Radha can be excused if she wonders about this guy's emotional maturity.

In 1910, Javed (Shahid), a poet of wine, women and song, woos Aradhana (Priyanka), the daughter of a freedom fighter. However, she is distressed by his lack of commitment (both political and emotional), and her father disapproves of the match. This part of the film feels like it lost crucial pieces of its conclusion in the editing room; director Kohli makes the ending feel rushed and incomplete.

We also discover here that Javed and Aradhana have vowed to be together in all their lives to come. But if that is what is supposed to tie these stories together, either our lovers are short-lived (are they reborn every 50 years?), or Kohli and his screenwriter Robin Bhatt (one of Alia's uncles, to bring this full circle) couldn't be bothered to be coherent and thought we wouldn't notice.

My advice, for what it's worth: for a better Shahid Kapoor movie, watch Vivah (Marriage, 2006); for a better Abhishek Bachchan comedy co-starring his father, watch Bunty aur Babli (2005); and for a better Karan Johar-associated film, watch Kal Ho Naa Ho.

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